Our Future in Our HandsSpeech to Coop Party Conference, Sunday 11 October 2020 Thank you so much for inviting me to the Co-op Conference, which in the times we are now in is online so I can’t see you all in person. And let me put on record my profound thanks to you too for helping make this West Midlands Co-op Taskforce report happen. Let me start by saying a huge thanks you to my fellow co-chairs and members of the taskforce, who brought wide experience, knowledge and insights. That is Preet Gill, Olivia Birch, Tony Kennedy, Jo White, Nick Matthews, Richard Bickle, Faye Abbott, Karen McCarthy and Colin Wilkes, and with support from the Co-op Party. And I also want to thank all those members who submitted ideas and who got involved. We very much worked through the lived experiences and this is a report that builds on ideas from the bottom up. We together have made this happen. And That is what co-ops are all about. We have a stake. They are us. I want to just say three things this morning - about urgency, inspiration and our agenda First, let me touch on urgency. Along with this report today, I’m tomorrow launching a book that warns that after a million people dead worldwide, 100 million more may be plunged into poverty A pandemic of disease is now set to trigger a pandemic of poverty - and we in our region are not immune I will never forget the stories I’ve heard during this crisis. From the agony of loss, surely we must bring chance. After everything people have been through, are we seriously saying that the reward must now be an Autumn of Anxiety and a long Winter of Want that lies ahead. In our region we have 1.3 million people on furlough, or the self employed scheme or they’re unemployed already They’re our neighbours - and we have a responsibility to them, not just to other tea and empathy, or warm words, but to do something about their plight That is why is an important time for co-ops and our movement - and that is why the time to act is now So, we have drawn on the inspiration of cooperators everywhere. Take energy co-ops. They are delivering 12-13 times the community benefit of a commercial installation. Or the co-ops providing good jobs, support community links and help money stay in the local area. Or the Co-ops from schools to social care, from businesses to energy, from transport to sports clubs, financial institutions to housing. We’ve lots of examples in our own region. Take Coventry’s ‘Social Supermarket’, offering affordable, good quality food and advice services Or, Birmingham’s community-led Growing Project supporting the vulnerably housed to grow food and create green spaces. Birmingham Council supporting the creation of CitySave, a credit union providing loans and financial guidance. Or Sandwell Council ensuring bidders for council projects address social value including putting communities central in decisions. Or, Wolverhampton Council providing some land rent free for a community groups and centre. And the Woverhampton House Project providing young people with work to refurbish properties to become homes. Third, let me touch on the ideas. I think we can treble co-operatives in the West Midlands across our region, across council areas and in neighbourhoods and communities. We can do this at scale. We’re the second largest urban area outside London, over two million people The bedrock of this report is the philosophy of Community wealth building Businesses and organisations like councils, universities, police and hospitals spend billions buying services and this procurement could support new co-operative businesses, employing local people and ensure money is retained locally. Preston Council pioneered this model and has seen millions more spent locally. With the scale of the West Midlands, there is a huge potential for this ‘community wealth building’ approach and this can be spurred through the direction and convening power of the Mayor and WMCA. We develop this by proposing Community & co-op innovation districts The West Midlands has many public and community empty buildings. I know. There’s some in my constituency, and I’ve seen many across our region when I’ve been talking to local communities, councillors and MPs. We know the fabric of too many of our communities have been torn up, and we need to reverse this. So, another idea is to establish new community & co-op innovation districts, to help re-open and revive these buildings as neighbourhood hubs with co-ops providing local services, strengtheningcommunity links, and giving a lift to high streets and neighbourhoods. The core our work must be Food - because we have moral obligation to deliver Zero Hunger. We now need a community-led food revolution. Through our taskforce we talked with the London Food Board and saw what they have taken forward. So we are looking to set up a West Midlands Food Board with a drive to tackle food waste, overcome food poverty and improve nutrition and the overall food system. Alongside creating new Food Justice Partnerships would build on the work we’ve seen during COVID-19 and bring communities together with institutions and businesses to so we can focus in on delivering zero hunger. Third, there’s Energy We know we need a cleaner, greener future. It’s an imperative. There are lots of excellent examples of energy co-ops across the country. These are generating clean energy and creating wealth in communities. Bristol Energy’s success has seen energy efficiency measures put in for community buildings and for homes. We need a similar approach in the West Midlands and alongside look at developing ‘solar for schools’ using the West Midlands Combined Authority to support economies of scale as well as establish a retrofit co-op to employ local people to improve homes and save energy bills, address fuel poverty and tackle carbon emissions. This would be a key part of our plan to be the centre of green manufacturing and make our future in the Midlands. Conclusion. If there’s a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic it has been the instinct we’ve seen for neighbours to work together. Truly these times have demonstrated the truth that our freedom - especially our freedom from fear, our freedom from want, our freedom to flourish - all depend on our capacity to cooperate. Cooperation is the midwife of liberty There are lots of ideas in this report I am so grateful to you for sharing your wisdom and experience I want to keep learning from you - which is why today I’m announcing that we are the newest member of the Cooperative Councils Innovation Network We know co-ops can help us renew our community bonds and spirit and can make the pounds we spend stay local. And this can renew our mission in the West Midlands. Come and join us in making our future. ENDS         .